The Sultan of the Sausage in the downtown district

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In the mid-1980s, a few years after Czeslaw Lewandowski emigrated to Canada from his native Poland, he worked in a factory in Toronto, operated a cleaning service, and briefly ran a friend’s hot dog stand. Czeslaw never dreamed that his latest stint at a mobile barbecue in Hogtown would one day launch a career in Limestone Town.
But that’s exactly what happened. More than three decades after moving to Kingston, Czeslaw still works on a grill on wheels. He’s as happy as a chip on a big dog, as skilled with a set of pliers as Jesse James with a six-stroke, Crosby on skates, Brady with time. His friends and clients call him Chester. The Sultan of the Sausage in the downtown district.

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His desk is a two-wheeled stainless steel hot dog cart, a 1995 model with all of its original parts except the barbecue, which Chester says he replaces every five years or so. The wagon is trucked to and from its coveted location in Confederation Park across from City Hall.

“I’m moving to Kingston 1988… no good job here,” Chester says in broken English which, despite the missing conjunctions, articles and the like, and the weird mutilated verb, is easy to understand and is part of his outgoing personality. . “I get a hot dog cart, first placed outside the old KEC Lumber store, Gardiners Road, then move the cart to the Sears store in Cataraqui Mall, then move again, stay long at Food Basics downtown. Now here in the park maybe 10, 15 years old. The first time there, then there. Chester shows off his old workstations at the back of the park closest to the water. He opens the barbecue lid, turns over the first batch of sausages of the day, and waves an outstretched palm on the small rented lot under his cart. “Now, here’s five years. Best place in the park.

It’s a sunny morning in early September just before 11 a.m. when a visitor with a pen and notepad in hand passes by to chat with Chester, whose trolley hours typically run from 10 a.m. until at the end of the afternoon. Yet her workday started hours earlier at home, where everything is cleaned, sanitized, prepped and packed for another working day on the streets. He attaches the cart to his truck and drives it to the “best place in the park,” the busy sidewalk of Ontario Street, which, before the pandemic, would normally be bustling with tourists and locals. (“On a good day, sell five, six dozen sausages,” Chester recalls. “Now lucky if you sell a dozen all day.”)

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“In this job, your face is never crazy, because the client’s face is never crazy – always happy and happy.”

It helps that Chester is a creature of contented habit, seemingly immune to boredom and monotony. He sticks to the same rigid agenda day in and day out, seven days a week, though, like Newman, the lazy mailman on the Seinfeld TV series, Chester doesn’t work in the rain. “This retirement work. I don’t work if I don’t want to.

Like the savvy saloonkeeper, Chester addresses his regulars, often spotting them approaching in the distance and having their “usual” expectation once they arrive.

“I think it’s him,” the owner whispers to no one in particular. He recognized a regular coming down from the cab of a green Waste Management truck parked across the street. A moment later and a positive ID: “Yep, that’s him – Spicy Sausage and Pepsi,” confirms Chester, searching the cooler for the customer’s favorite.

“Come here often? The visitor with the notepad asks the regular, Todd Demerah.

” Very well ! Exclaims the tall, beefy Todd. “I feel bad because sometimes I pass right by that other hot dog cart over there.” He nods in the direction of a rival cart located perhaps 50 feet away, near the corner of Brock Street. “I tell them, ‘Nothing personal, but this guy over there makes the best dog in town.'” As the interview gnawed at his lunch break, tall Todd tears a spicy sausage into a bun covered in onions and ketchup.

Czeslaw Lewandowski was born the youngest of three children on a farm outside the old Polish town of Elblag (founded 1247). The family lived a meager existence working under the communist government’s collective farm system of the day. At 29, Czeslaw decided to flee his homeland. He lied to the Polish border authorities, telling them he was going on vacation to Yugoslavia, which, like Poland, was then under Communist rule and considered a “safe” destination. Instead, he sent him to Austria and “straight to the immigration office,” Chester recalls. He arrived in Montreal in 1981.

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His hot dog business is seasonal, which suits the sausage sultan perfectly. He likes to take extended vacations to Poland out of season, or at least he did until the coronavirus caught him and the rest of the world off guard.

Chester hopes to return to Poland this year to, among other things, spend some time fishing with an old friend from elementary school and “… go to a disco, relax, drink a bit … the good life,” says he shamelessly.

Chester is 70, has three grown daughters, four grandchildren and a deceased ex-wife.

Now that he has found the grill of his dreams, his wedding days are behind him. But not his years of dating. Chester laughs as he recounts a particularly nerve-racking time many years ago in the dating scene, when he dated a little too often and, ultimately, with too much. In short, Ol ‘Czeslaw was burning the candle at both ends.

“When I have a hot dog cart at Food Basics, I have two girlfriends at the same time,” recalls the aging Lothario, whose short gray hair is starting to give way to white. “I’m scared every day, oh how scared I’m afraid they’ll show up to the hot dog cart at the same time.”

An open garden chair sits behind the cart the minimum distance of eight feet required before a smoker can light up. Chester’s vice is the cigar. He pulls out a rolled pack of 20 from inside a box under the folding table that holds the condiments. A wasp buzzes nearby, instantly sending the Sultan of the Sausage into retaliation mode. He catches an electrified bug zapper. “I buy from Dollar Store, great job,” he said before frying the unsuspecting yellow jacket.

He sees another repeat customer approaching and begins to fill an unordered order.

“Chester is an integral part of the community,” says customer Laura Hutchings. “He’s always nice, always smiling and his hot dogs are the best.

“I moved from Kingston for nine years,” continues Hutchings. “When I came back, there was Chester and his hot dog cart. It was as if I had never left town.

Patrick Kennedy is a retired Whig-Standard reporter who has eaten his share of “North Tube Steaks.” He can be reached at [email protected]

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